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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels, March 9-11, 1977. Interview A-0313. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Nell Battle Lewis transforms from liberal to reactionary after a mental illness

Cornelia "Nell" Battle Lewis worked as a journalist for the <cite>Raleigh News and Observer</cite> since 1921. Her staunch support of textile workers branded her a liberal. However, Daniels explains that Lewis's political views changed to support racially conservative and reactionary policies after her treatment for mental illness. Lewis's large following prevented Daniels from terminating her employment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels, March 9-11, 1977. Interview A-0313. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHARLES EAGLES:
What kind of person was Nell Battle Lewis?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
You've got to say what period you're talking about.
CHARLES EAGLES:
She went through a change, didn't she?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Yes. She was a very good and humorous newspaperwoman. Wrote a column called "Incidentally." Then she went crazy, to be frank about it, and then she recovered. But in her recovery she became the damnedest Joe McCarthy you ever saw in your life. She hated Jews and niggers and you know . . . She became as reactionary as they are allowed to live.
CHARLES EAGLES:
Do you mean that she actually was mentally ill?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
She had been committed.
CHARLES EAGLES:
When was this?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
I would think that was in the late twenties. She'd been an excellent reporter. She'd done a lot of good stuff on the trial of the communists at Gastonia, and she was a great liberal. My golly, she blew all the horns. And then, in a sort of a sea change, she came back and hated everything that was different from the old patterns. And she was a racist, and not merely directing at blacks; Jews, foreigners. She was sort of entrenched in her column, and you don't fire somebody who's got a following like that. And once or twice I tried to say something. She wrote about the Jews that were ruining Chapel Hill and the University. And I just tried to quiet her down, and I know that in the process she just thought I was pretty much of a dictator. But I'd let her go as far as you could, and then sometime she'd blow the top off the tent.
CHARLES EAGLES:
When did she finally stop writing for the News and Observer?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
I would think about in '36 or '7. As a young woman, she was really a comer and quite a liberal in letters as well as in politics. A great Menckenite. They were the principal reporters in those days.